the privilege of size

A lyrical interpretation of a Borgesian account about a strange encounter while commuting.

Photo credit: Jennifer Enujiugha

My story will be faithful to reality, or at least to my personal recollection of reality, which is the same thing. The events took place in the Fall of 2018 after a Michael and Janet Jackson themed lip-sync competition at Sidetracks in Boystown. I learned about the competition from my colleague and agreed to attend. After work, I stopped home for a second shower, cologne, and to change clothes. In the closet, I reached for a tour tee and pulled one from Unbreakable. I’d wear a zip-up hoodie, something I wouldn’t necessarily need to coat check. In the mirror, I put my hair up and removed my earrings, necklaces, bracelet, and wedding band (an ounce of prevention). I didn’t want to draw attention to myself on the train or have a need to fight over material things that hold sentimental value. The “L” would save on parking up north, so I opted to drive to the train and park n’ ride. I know that the habit of literature is also the habit of interpolating circumstantial details and accentuating certain emphases. I wish to tell the story of my encounter with Jeremiah (I never learned his last name, and perhaps never will, as I had very little interest at the onset of our meeting which later turned disinterest— the souring fear stuck to my ribs) in the city of Chicago. The tale will span one train commute home.

At Jackson, I transferred and made my way down the dim stairwell, where the sharpness of stale urine cut through the scent of brake dust, fuel, and trash.

Silent water dripped from the ceiling and spread an existing puddle. A man dressed in layers tied his shoes. At the end of the tunnel, janitors cleaned the opposite stairwell, and I advanced a few paces into the shaft, a cacophony of thudded footsteps worked to match my pace.

A man’s voice broke the silence.

“Hey, sweetheart. You got some change? I’m tryin to get something to eat.”

I apologized for the lack of cash without breaking stride, my eye on the opposite stairwell ahead. The space between us narrowed with each step as I worked to counter our closeness with renewed space—wider than before. I didn’t want to appear to be fleeing.

The man in layered clothes walked in a zigzagged manner part stumble, part wounded somewhere blind to me beneath the intermittent flicker of subway light.

“My name Jeremiah,” he said to my passing side.

Jeremiah told me that I reminded him of a woman he loved. From the corner of my eye, I watched his hands, the flattened nailbed stopped unusually short before the edge of his fingertips looked more like E.T’s fingers than human. A dry hand shot out in my direction. Stunned, I stepped backward, and my shoulder grazed the tiled wall. Fingers ashen with bulbous joints spread and penetrated the black headband, which held my afro puff in place.

“Excuse me, sir,” fell from my lips and wilted.

I continued forward. Jeremiah followed.

On the platform, my knees shook, and I tried to become invisible.

“Let me go home with you. I want to stand up in it all night. Don’t matter to me, you fat.” He said as if I moved in the world for the sole purpose of being desired by a man. His indifference to the way my stomach hanged over my waistband somehow made him noble, more sensible than other men, and on that merit alone, I should reward him.

                                                     All They Want Is My Money My Pussy My Blood.

I thought I might get robbed.

Pussy dipped in yella goldnah, got hella diamonds on the bezel.

I had to be careful.

My fingers expanded and contracted inside the weaponless pocket of a half-zipped hoodie. And I never felt more alone.

Considering the current state of “more” as it relates to what we choose to covet and discard. More is good when you’re white, male, and frozen in legal tender. More is good in gold, in drinks at the bar—more skin, but not more black skin. More has never been good in Black body. Inches and pounds accumulate here: jawline, stomach, waist, biceps, thighs, ankles, face. I am a large woman. And he saw that. I admit the privilege of size caused me to drop my guard over the years. Walking while girl. Walking while woman. Walking while Black Gay Woman of size. She got that weight. She body-wealthy.

She light as a rock, too.

Drawing the male gaze like walking through a fresh pile of shit, quick and unexpected, no matter how much you drag your foot on the ground, through the grass, when the fecal matter gone, the stench stays with you. My crime: I walked past a man crouched over, tying his shoes in the subway tunnel’s grime and dust.

The penalty: pursuit.

The attention, a violation of the fat girl safety zone I imagined for myself, I took society’s clues and built a wall out of writing myself away from the dangers that plague women.

Average shaped women.

Bodies that pass.

The deal: the more body I have, the less I am seen.

No-touch shall prevail here.

With exception to the fictitious plight of Sapphire’s Precious, no fat girl street harassment videos went viral. No Made for TV movie depicts fatness as beauty, fatness as vulnerable—no fat girl waiting for rape kit scene. No, bring back our fat girl’s campaign. Been fat joked into believing fat hard to steal. Fat undesirable. Fat make her invisible until it don’t.

That’s what I get for responding to your request for change, I thought. For using this voice. For sounding nice. For smelling good. For having breasts. For appearing approachable. For being pinch your cheeks cute and handsome by some-teenth century standards. I wanted Jeremiah to forget me. I hoped he’d fixate on someone or something else. Like the last payphone on earth living out its time on a yellowing pillar near the platform’s edge, where he removed his sweater, but he abandoned the subway relic. I wanted to be forgotten like a 2 a.m. stain, quick, and for a moment, I thought I had been. I yearned to find solace in the place half his mind went to when he lost his pants and looked at me like a hungry child.

A grey-haired man passed the length of the platform, a plastic bag stuffed cart in tow, and stopped.

“You ok, man?” He said and looked once at me and back to Jeremiah.

“Yeah,” Jeremiah responded.

I needed to breathe.

Jeremiah kept asking which train would be ours.

The audaciousness of masculinity is an expectation of feminine compliance without hesitation based on being draft, not revision.

My plan: bolt across the platform before the doors closed.

When the train arrived, I turned to go. Jeremiah stepped towards me and grabbed my ass with both hands. I froze, felt his fingertips brush across my nipples, they hardened when I didn’t want them to.

His touch prevailed here.

His touch prevailed.

I held my breath. Shocked, there remained a part of me that believed the ugly untruths the insecure hurl to deflect from themselves:

1. A large body is undesirable
2. A large body cannot be a target for harassment

And belief in the ugly untruths caused me to prioritize the safety of my jewelry over my body.

Jeremiah followed me through the railcar doors and forgot me. He hey-babied a group of girls in their seats. They, in response, turned up their noses. Near the window, a girl in maroon passion twists looked up from her e-reader with a scowl on her face that hung lower than the wired headphone that dangled from her ear.

“Getcho dirty ass on.” She yelled at Jeremiah.

And he retreated.

We sat six seats apart for four stops before he exited.

I exhaled.



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Jasminum McMullen

Jasminum McMullen's fiction and poetry have appeared in Past Ten, A Gathering Together, and Stella Veritatis. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and writes in Chicago.